Amazon speakers introduced in 2014 / MON 2-28-22 / Hometown proud supermarket / Francis of old TV's "What's My Line?" / 1990s cartoon series featuring Yakko Wakko and Dot / Baby-boomer series that starred Ken Olin

Monday, February 28, 2022

Constructor: Zach Sherwin and Andrea Carla Michaels

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium 

THEME: honestly, I have no IDEA — looks like the first three letters of each theme answer ... repeat ... somewhere else in that answer ... is that really it??? The letters don't ... do anything or mean anything or ... anything? Wow, OK:

Theme answers:
  • OKEFENOKEE (18A: Swamp in "Pogo")
  • "ANIMANIACS" (24A: 1990s cartoon series featuring Yakko, Wakko and Dot)
  • "THIRTYSOMETHING" (39A: Baby-boomer series that starred Ken Olin)
  • WORDSWORTH (55A: Poet William who wrote "The Prelude")
  • CHINCHILLA (63A: South American rodent with soft, dense fur)
Word of the Day: Jeannette RANKIN (40D: Jeannette ___ first woman elected to Congress) —

Jeannette Pickering Rankin (June 11, 1880 – May 18, 1973) was an American politician and women's rights advocate, and the first woman to hold federal office in the United States. She was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives as a Republican from Montana in 1916, and again in 1940. As of 2022, Rankin is still the only woman ever elected to Congress from Montana.

Each of Rankin's Congressional terms coincided with initiation of U.S. military intervention in the two World Wars. A lifelong pacifist, she was one of 50 House members who opposed the declaration of war on Germany in 1917. In 1941, she was the only member of Congress to vote against the declaration of war on Japan following the attack on Pearl Harbor.

suffragist during the Progressive Era, Rankin organized and lobbied for legislation enfranchising women in several states including Montana, New York, and North Dakota. While in Congress, she introduced legislation that eventually became the 19th Constitutional Amendment, granting unrestricted voting rights to women nationwide. She championed a multitude of diverse women's rights and civil rights causes throughout a career that spanned more than six decades. (wikipedia)

• • •

It's not uncommon for me to find the Monday puzzle a little dull, or a little corny, but it is nearly unheard of for me to find it completely thematically inscrutable. I simply have no idea what the theme is supposed to be. If the full extent of the theme is simply "the first three letters of each answer repeat themselves within the answer," then I haven't seen a theme so startlingly unworthy of publication in a long, long time. There's no wordplay ... the repeated three-letter strings don't make words, or sounds, or ... anything. They Don't Do Anything. In each case, there are just three random letters ... that then repeat. Is that ... unusual? Strange? It seems so ordinary, so banal, that I can't imagine anyone's ever thinking it would amount to theme material, and I really Really can't imagine an editor's thinking "yes! I get a hundred submissions a week but this! This is the one." What in the world is happening? Maybe, maybe if there had been a revealer, some snappy concept, something that would make the repeated letter strings make any kind of sense, then the concept would've been tolerable—good revealers often turn seemingly unremarkable answers into a really tight and interesting set. But this ... what is this? I pity the Monday-level puzzles that were rejected to make room for this one. I don't normally read the other blogs, but since my friend Rachel writes for NYT's own "Wordplay" blog on Monday, I thought I'd jump over there and at least make sure I wasn't missing anything ... and I was not. Also, she didn't "get" the theme either—this is telling. I did enjoy reacquainting myself with Jeannette RANKIN, but the pleasure pretty much started and ended there.

The fill in this puzzle is also pretty miserable. ECHOS was the biggest wince of the day (product placement + awful brand-name alt-plural spelling) (54D: Amazon speakers introduced in 2014). But mostly the problem was the crosswordesiness. Lots and lots and lots of good (not actually good) old repeaters: ALAI and ARLENE Francis ("of old TV") and ACTI OLE ACELA ELENA etc. There's even the original kealoa*, i.e. LOA (65D: Mauna ___ (Hawaiian volcano)). AWS as a plural is AWkward (51D: "How cute!" sounds), as is TWO-HIT, which isn't really that noteworthy a thing (a "two-hitter," that is) (48D: Like some well-pitched games). A six-hit game might be "well pitched" too (better pitched than some TWO-HIT games), but you're not gonna see SIX-HIT in the grid (I hope). What else? Oh, CHI is an answer (32D: Ho ___ Minh City) even though CHI is one of the crucial repeating theme elements (see CHINCHILLA). That kind of duplication is less than ideal. It really is stunning how unready for prime time this is. I'm genuinely baffled. Andrea has crafted many delightful Monday-level themes over the years. I just don't get the appeal of this one at all.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

*kealoa = short, common answer that you can't just fill in quickly because two or more answers are viable Even With One or More Letters In Place. From the classic [Mauna ___] KEA/LOA conundrum. See also, e.g. [Heaps] ATON/ALOT, ["Git!"] "SHOO"/"SCAT," etc.

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Slangy SoCal dialect / SUN 2-27-22 / Rhea with four Emmys / Best-selling crime novelist Gregg / sea captain robber thief 2003 / true fellow is a find 1946 / M Ryan what's her yell 1989 / REM alarming to the teens 1984 / They have massive calves

Sunday, February 27, 2022

Constructor: Sheldon Polonsky

Relative difficulty: Easy, maybe Easy-Medium

THEME: "Cinemagrams" — movies clued as (allegedly) apt anagrams of their names:

Theme answers:
  • "PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN" (22A: "Sea captain: robber, thief (2003)")
  • "IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE" (34A: "True fellow is a find (1946)")
  • "THE TOWERING INFERNO" (52A: "Re: town fire one night (1974)")
  • "THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA" (75A: "Evil Streep had award (2006)")
  • "WHEN HARRY MET SALLY" (91A: "M. Ryan, what's her yell? (1989)")
  • "A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET" (110A: "R.E.M.: alarming to the teens (1984)")
Word of the Day: LEON Bridges (39D: Soul singer Bridges) —
Todd Michael "LeonBridges (born July 13, 1989) is an American soul singer, songwriter and record producer. He is best known for his 2015 song "Coming Home", which received regular airplay and was also a Top 10 Most Viral Track on Spotify. Bridges' debut album, also titled Coming Home, was released on June 23, 2015, on Columbia Recordsand subsequently nominated for Best R&B Album at the 58th Annual Grammy Awards.
• • •

I'm never going to feel much admiration or affection for a theme that can basically be lifted from a sporcle quiz (find at least two of today's anagrams here, for instance). I always assume that the "jokes" are lifted (borrowed, if you like) from somewhere else, and anyway, all you end up with, whether the anagrams are original or not, is a few movie titles in your grid. And today, I didn't even need to really read the clues very well. Just get a few crosses, and the very famous movie titles just slid right in. Even if I decide I am a lover of this type of humor, and the concept is the greatest thing I've ever heard of, still I don't know how any of these produce more than a polite, slightly forced smile—except for that last one. The clue for "A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET" is eerily on the nose; plus the phrase "the teens" is just inherently funny to me. So my most generous assessment is that one of these six themers is good. That said, the clue for "THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA" barely makes any sense at all. Streep didn't even win the Oscar for that role (she did win a Golden Globe, but come on, no one takes those seriously). The "Wonderful Life" clue is dull, the "Harry / Sally" one is tortured ("M." Ryan?). You get the idea. All hail Freddy Kruger. The rest of these can go straight to video (a phrase that used to connote inferior quality, kids; ask your parents).

What in the world is "ERE while"!?!?! (32A: Quaint lead-in to while). It's erstwhile, and ERE long. I read (and teach) a lot of stuff that has "ERE" in it, and "ERE while" does not strike my ears as very in-the-language for 1622 (to say nothing of 2022). Bizarre cluing move, that one. And crossing FORE!? Which is clued as [Front], which, frankly, is also pretty "quaint" ... that little section was unpleasant (and also, unfortunately, the last section I filled in). And then there's YESTER (56D: Lead-in to day or year)... [weary exhale]. The fill is definitely struggling in places today. I want to like VALSPEAK, but it's weird—in a puzzle like this, that doesn't appear to have a very up-to-date sensibility or strong sense of slanginess, I just assume that VALSPEAK was the semi-accidental byproduct of software armed with a giant wordlist. Still, however it got in the puzzle, it's definitely one of the high points—and a NYTXW debut (84D: Slangy SoCal dialect). My general aversion to billionairism means that things like 1.3 million-dollar CIGARs (99D: The world's most expensive one, the Gurkha Royal Courtesan, costs over $1.3 million) and the names of the characters on "Succession"  (89A: One of the Roys on "Succession" = KENDALL) are going to be meaningless to me (this is not a knock against "Succession," which is very good, I hear—I just can't stand to watch another second of filmed entertainment detailing the lives of the morally decrepit 0.0001 percent ... at least not in its modern-day incarnation; which is to say, I am happily watching HBO's "Gilded Age"). As usual, the names in this puzzle were my only real stumbling block, and "stumbling" is an overstatement today. The theme was so incredibly easy, and the themers so incredibly long, that the grid opened up quite readily and didn't give me any opportunities to get truly stuck. 

  • 72D: Harvard dropouts, maybe? (ARS) — no letter looks dumber written out than "AR." This is one of the few times I'd say this, but I'm saying it: "Clue it as Latin, please."
  • 20D: Onetime dentist's supply (ETHER) — this sounds like an erstwhile dentist just has some of the stuff lying around his garage. "Herb? Yeah, he retired, and now he just potters around the house ... you know, gardens, plays with his model trains, stockpiles ETHER..."
  • 78D: Aid in putting together a fall collection (RAKE) — I like this clue. Nice fashion fake-out.
  • 42D: School for the college-bound (PREP) — me: "... all of them?" This clue is weird. It's not 1950. All high schools PREP kids for college. I would've preferred [___ school] to this weird, unnecessarily snobby clue.
  • 116A: "Louisiana ___," music show that helped launch Elvis's career ("HAYRIDE") — yikes, this pop culture obscurity crossed with AYA briefly felt threatening. But there was really no other way to go except with the "Y."

Last year, my friend Rachel Fabi organized a charity fundraising puzzle project called "These Puzzles Fund Abortion." Her fundraising efforts were so successful (> $60K raised in 2021) that she's back this year with "These Puzzles Fund Abortion Too"—fifteen original puzzles by top constructors, and all you gotta do is donate at least $15 to one of the seven abortion funds listed on their National Abortion Access Fund-A-Thon page. The need is dire (see Texas, the Supreme Court, etc.) and the puzzle quality is sure to be stellar. Here's the link. Go do it now before you forget. And here's Rachel's announcement of the project on Twitter:

Enjoy the rest of your Sunday,

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. GLACIERS have massive calves (96A: They have massive calves) because when pieces of them break off, that's called "calving"

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Boho-chic furniture material / SAT 2-26-22 / Green research site / Moroccan quarter / When doubled a 2010s dance craze / Chief magistrates in Italian history / N.F.L. kicker Graham who payed for 14 teams / Celebrity chef Burrell / Openly discussing one's kinks, say / Use a shuttle, say

Saturday, February 26, 2022

Constructor: Ori Brian

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: CLARA Schumann (14A: Pianist/composer Schumann) —

Clara Josephine Schumann ([ˈklaːʁa ˈʃuːman]; née Wieck; 13 September 1819 – 20 May 1896) was a German pianist, composer, and piano teacher. Regarded as one of the most distinguished pianists of the Romantic era, she exerted her influence over a 61-year concert career, changing the format and repertoire of the piano recital from displays of virtuosity to programs of serious works. She also composed solo piano pieces, a piano concerto (her Op. 7), chamber music, choral pieces, and songs.

She grew up in Leipzig, where her father, Friedrich Wieck, was a pianist and teacher, and her mother, Mariane, was a pianist, singer, and piano teacher. She was a child prodigy, trained by her father. She began touring at age eleven, and was successful in Paris and Vienna, among other cities. She married the composer Robert Schumann, and the couple had eight children. Together, they encouraged Johannes Brahms and maintained a close relationship with him. She premiered many works by her husband and by Brahms in public.

After Robert Schumann's early death, she continued her concert tours in Europe for decades, frequently with the violinist Joseph Joachim and other chamber musicians. Beginning in 1878, she was an influential piano educator at Dr. Hoch's Konservatorium in Frankfurt, where she attracted international students. She edited the publication of her husband's work. Schumann died in Frankfurt, but was buried in Bonn beside her husband. (wikipedia)

• • •

It's possible this puzzle has confused SEX-POSITIVE (34A: Openly discussing one's kinks, say) with OVERSHARING, depending on the imagined context, but most other things it seems to get right. It's got a lovely central stack with absolutely solid longer answers slicing through it, and most of the rest of the fill holds up pretty well. The only wincing I did was at the very, very end, when I stepped in that puddle of names at the bottom of the grid. Bad enough to meet Paul RYAN down there (so many RYANs in the world, whyyyyy?), but then to have my final square be the intersection of two names I don't know crossing at a vowel ... bah. Major anticlimax. I don't know why you don't clue at least one of those names, either EVA or ANNE, as someone legitimately famous, or at least from somewhere outside pop culture. Go back in time, go sideways into science or literature, something. There are too many ALLEGEd "celebrity chefs" for me to keep track of. So, you know, keep EVA Noblezada and move ANNE back in time or to some other field. It would be great if ANNE were a much more universally famous person, too. You can clue very famous people in tricky ways, so you don't have to give up difficulty. Nobody likes name soup, particularly short-name soup, so at least draw from very different fields or time periods. Especially when crossing names at a vowel. Luckily, in this case, "A" was the only reasonable guess. I had no idea if "EVE" or "EVA" was correct, but _NNE leaves you with only one plausible option. If I hadn't *finished* here, I probably wouldn't be talking about this moment nearly so much. But how you finish matters, even if where you finish is an unpredictable matter of chance. I can't believe I'm going to advocate for ERA, but I do think ERA / ANNE is better than EVA / ANNE. Ordinary words > short names of not-terribly-famous people crossing at a vowel. "Why are you focusing on these tiny details!?!?!" I know. I just can't dismiss the small stuff as insignificant. Every inch of the puzzle should be thoughtfully and carefully designed, even if many solvers will blow through it in 10 seconds. Plus I'm just generally interested in the kinds of values that drive construction and editorial choices. Putting new people in the puzzle! Good! But I tend to land in the "keep the name count reasonably low" and "don't cross unfamous names at vowels" and "draw from lots of different knowledge bases" camps.

There is only one BATMAN. There are different actors, but just the one man. This is to say, BATMEN, bah (26A: Christian Bale and Val Kilmer, for two). I think BATMEN is a cricket term. Or is that BATSMEN? Anyway, I don't think BATMEN is a thing / are things. If they are real, they probably work not in Bat Caves but ECOLABS, which are also not things. BARMEN are things. Gendered, yes, but their drinks are so tasty. No other clues / answers really bothered me. I quite enjoyed the "what the hell part of speech is this?" cluing on both SEX POSITIVE (34A: Openly discussing one's kinks, say) and SLIM TO NONE (29D: Long). The former clue really looks like it wants to be an -ING-ending present participle, while the latter looks like a jillion things; I thought it had to do with length, or yearning, and then I got the SLIM- part and thought "what does SLIME have to do with it?" and *then* I saw what it was: a phrase related to odds or likelihood. If the odds are long, you might also say they're SLIM TO NONE. Nice. The only difficulty I had today was with the names (SHAYNE, EVA, ANNE), but I also had some good luck with names. For instance, I knew ALAN Watts, who has arguably the least well-known name in the grid, depending on how old you are and what you care about (Watts was one of the great popularizers of Buddhism in America in the last century). I had several moments of hesitation before getting BONOBOS, even with the BON- in place, simply because I couldn't understand how "ours" was being used (27A: Close relatives of ours). Seemed weird for the clue to suddenly take on a first-person persona. . . which made me think "waaaaaaaait a minute, is this gonna be a French animal name!?" ("ours" in French = "bear" / "bears"). 
But no, not relatives of French bears, relatives of human beings—if you've ever heard of BONOBOS, one thing you know is how closely related they are to human beings and the other thing you know is that they are extremely SEX POSITIVE

[WARNING: just kidding, it's fine]

Just one explainer today:
  • 37A: Use a shuttle, say (TAT) — this is a lace-making term, so different "shuttle" and different "TAT" than you're probably used to encountering in everyday speech
That's all. See you tomorrow, or whenever.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. the "BATMEN of All Nations" existed for a time, in the 1950s, so BATMEN are, or were, a thing, though not in the way the clue imagined. 

January, 1955

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Exile of 1302 / FRI 2-25-22 / Alternative to a blind in poker / Some military choppers / 1980s sitcom title role for Jane Curtin / Home of Mount Aconcagua / One leader of the Army of the Potomac / Counterpart to projections, in accounting / Classic 1942 film based on a book subtitled "A Life in the Woods" / Western wildflower named for its distinctive shape / Italian place whose name comes from a Greek word meaning I burn / Practiced sedulously / Chief inspiration for the Mannerist style of art

Friday, February 25, 2022

Constructor: Damon Gulczynski

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: PILAU (48D: Rice dish) —
Pilau (UK spelling) or pilaf (US spelling) is a rice dish (or in some regions, a wheat dish) of South AsianCentral Asian and Middle Eastern origin. The recipe usually involves cooking the rice soaked in stock or broth, adding meat, spices, and other ingredients such as vegetables, and employing some technique for achieving cooked grains that do not adhere. (wikipedia)
• • •

So PILAU ... *is* PILAF. Wow. Did you all know this, and if so, why did you keep this information from me. All my British readers and friends, all the crosswords I've done before, how could you betray me like this? I knew PILAF, of course, and I knew PALAU (the western Pacific island country that once hosted at least one season of "Survivor"), but PILAU, that one came from outer space. Really really would've appreciated a "to Brits" or some qualifier like that. I searched my blog and the only reference I can find to PILAU is in a reader comment from 2008 which talks about having had a (mistaken) terminal "U" for some answer (PILAF, it turns out) and, as a result, writing in PILAU. I can only imagine the commenter was British or otherwise just very familiar with all manner of Briticisms. I had to stare at that cross and finally make a decision. Write in wrong-looking PILAU, or write in wrong-looking HFEYS. In the end, I decided HUEYS was absolutely unimpeachable, whereas maybe PILAU ... was just some rice dish I hadn't heard of. This was the correct call, though it turns out I *had* heard of the [Rice dish] in question. I went looking for something out of the ordinary, but Google informed me pretty quickly that PILAU was just ... PILAF, the answer I wanted in the first place. For the record, the last time PILAU appeared in the puzzle was 2002, and it didn't have a "to Brits" qualifier then either (it didn't even have "rice" in it => [Middle Eastern dish]). I think the puzzle has radically underestimated how many U.S. solvers will have heard or seen PILAU before. BUT THAT'S JUST ME! I could easily be wrong here. Your mileage may vary. Et + cetera. But I've spent a full paragraph talking about one square because honestly that is all that I remember well about this solve. There's lots of good stuff in the grid (see below), but this is a good example of how the lack of an alt-spelling qualifier in the clue took what could've been a "huh, interesting" moment and made it something far less pleasant. For future reference, please commit to memory all of the following spellings. You'll (maybe?) thank me later:

The long answers in this grid were mostly delightful. I found much of it tough because either the cluing wasn't on my wavelength or, in one notable case, I totally misread the clue. Let's start with the misread clue: I got IQS instantly (1A: Brightness measures) and immediately went for the "Q" answer, thinking, "well, it's a 'Q' answer, so I'm going to get it immediately!" And when I saw [One represented by blue-and-white flag...] I thought "Oh, that's the trans flag ... isn't it? ... well, at any rate, it's something QUEER, so ... just write that in ... QUEER? Hmmm ... not working ... ooh, what about that other meaning of "Q" in LGBTQ+: Questioning! Is it QUESTIONER ... nope, doesn't fit." Eventually I got QUÉBÉCOIS from crosses and after *that* I eventually went back and saw that I had never finished reading the clue, which made references to fleur-de-lis and everything! Total giveaway. But I just leapt from "Q" to "colored flags" to ... well, my doom. 

[Warning: this delightful song contains profanity]

Trivia cluing just missed me today. The "BAMBI" clue felt hard, since there's nothing in the clue about a deer or animation (23D: Classic 1942 film based on a book subtitled "A Life in the Woods"), and the MICHELANGELO clue felt even harder, largely because I (apparently) have no idea what the "Mannerist style of art" is. Sounds really modern to me, so even after I got the MICHEL part I just assumed that was some French guy's first name. No idea Hawaiian was an airline, so even after getting AIR, I was baffled by 45A: Hawaiian, e.g. (AIRLINE). Hardest ANTE clue I've ever had because, as I've said many times, poker lingo, barf (27A: Alternative to a blind, in poker). Trivia on top of trivia crossing (medical) trivia in the NE, so that slowed me down a bunch too. I know all those answers (ANDES MEADE EDEMA) but could not see them as clued. Not easily anyway. But I had a much easier time, and was much more delighted by, the longer stuff. "BUT THAT'S JUST ME!" "WILL YOU BE QUIET!" (I'm a quiet junkie, so this exasperated cry meant a lot to me). The "Q" down here did not lead me astray, as the NW "Q" did. Quite the Qontrary, I went "WILL YOU BE QUIET!" to JE NE SAIS QUOI in an instant, bam bam. Thank you, "Q." That was my one big moment of Friday "whoosh," and I was grateful for it.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Both consonants in "geek" phonetically / THU 2-24-22 / Parties with smokers / Emulate the Lonely Goatherd / One observing the holiday of Arba'een / Montgomery retired WNBA star / Particle with a superscript / Band with first platinum-selling double album

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Constructor: Jake Halperin

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: doubled letters — two-word answers that become self-descriptive when you double the first letter of the second word in the answer:

Theme answers:
  • LONG-I ISLAND (17A: Wight, e.g.?) (i.e. "Wight" has a long "i" in it)
  • HARD-C CANDIES (28A: Crunch bar and Cadbury Creme Egg, e.g.?) (i.e. "Crunch" and "Cadbury Creme" have hard "c"s)
  • SILENT-M MOVIE (44A: 1995's "Johnny Mnemonic," e.g.?) (i.e. "Mnemonic" has a silent "m")
  • CAPITAL-S SIN (59A: Sloth, e.g.?) (i.e. "Sin" has a capital "S")
Word of the Day: RENEE Montgomery (3D: ___ Montgomery, retired W.N.B.A. star) —
Renee Danielle Montgomery
 (born December 2, 1986) is a retired American basketball player and sports broadcaster who is currently vice president, part-owner, and investor of the Atlanta Dream, and one of three owners of the FCF Beasts Indoor Football Team. During her 11-year playing career in the Women's National Basketball Association, she won two championships with the Minnesota Lynx in 2015 and 2017. During her college playing career, she won a national championship with the UConn Huskies in 2009. In 2020, she married music artist Sirena Grace in Atlanta, Ga.[...] During the 2011 WNBA season, Montgomery had the best season of her career once she became the starting point guard for the [Connecticut] Sun. She averaged 14.6 ppg and was voted as an all-star for the first time in her career. [...] In 2017, Montgomery averaged 8.0 ppg and achieved a new career-high in field goal shooting percentage. Montgomery also started in 12 of 34 games played while Whalen was sidelined with a hand injury. The Lynx continued to be a championship contender in the league after making it to the Finals for the sixth time in seven seasons, setting up a rematch with the Sparks. This time the Lynx would win in 5 games, winning their fourth championship in seven seasons, tying the now-defunct Houston Comets for most championship titles. (wikipedia)
• • •

Well this is suitably weird. It's not the most consistent theme in the world, but it definitely gets points for creativity. I think the first three themers work great, but that last one really mucks things up (you generally want to reserve that final themer slot for your Best themer, not your worst one). First, I thought the Seven Deadly Sins were "cardinal," not "capital"—I actually don't know the term "capital sin" at all. Or, I do, but only by inference. I've probably seen it, but it feels off. A cardinal sin is "(in Christian tradition) any of the seven deadly sins" (google/Oxford Languages), and Sloth is one of those, so ... insert disappointed frowny face here. But even if you accept this "capital" business, this answer is already an outlier in a much more significant way, in that it is the only answer that refers not to a phonetic change but to a (mere) case change. All the other front parts of the themers refer directly to pronunciation; CAPITAL S has absolutely nothing to do with pronunciation. So on two fronts, it's weak and should never have made the team. I wonder if there are two-word phrases with "soft" or "short" letter options that would've worked. Think on that one yourselves. For now, I'll just say that I definitely enjoyed 75% of this theme. 

The grid was also predominantly enjoyable, but there were a couple moments of cruelty and stupidity that made me cringe. First, SEAN / SPICER—why would you make such a show of that guy's name!? Melissa McCarthy is great, but her presence in the clue cannot remove the slime from the grid. Then, what the hell is a BEGATHON!? That seems a really ungenerous way to talk about a fundraiser. I think that answer is supposed to be fresh and fun, but it felt like something a Newsmax guy like SEAN / SPICER would say about any org. that needed money. I looked it up, and BEGATHON is derogatory slang for absolutely ordinary stuff like PBS fund-raising drives. Come on, man. Today is especially not the day for this sneering selfish right-wing nonsense; I'm already trying hard to ignore the fact that a huge chunk of this country is not-so-secretly happy about the Russian attack on Ukraine (the bombing has begun). So spare me your architects of white-right disinformation and stupidity, and spare me your contempt for the needy. In general, but especially today.

The puzzle was easy, by and large, but I had a few struggles. The most embarrassing struggle, for someone who has a Ph.D. in English and whose daughter minored in linguistics and who generally likes word-related stuff a lot, is that I totally spaced on VELARS (47D: Both consonants in "geek," phonetically). It's normal not to know VELARS—it's probably the toughest vocabulary word in the grid—but *I* should've remembered this. I was trying VOC- and VAL- and everything but the right thing. Had to build most of it from crosses before I remembered it. I also forgot CREAM existed, for a bit (29D: Band with the first platinum-selling double album). Eric Clapton was in that band, so there's some more white-right disinformation-spreading garbage for your puzzling day. Sigh. The funniest thing that happened to me today, screw-up-wise, was that I kept wanting AXE and it kept being wrong until finally it decided to show up at the very bottom of the grid (60D: Eliminate). It's relatively normal to want a word, have it be wrong, and then have it show up elsewhere. But to want that word and have it be wrong *twice* before actually showing up—that's strange. What's really strange is not that I wanted AXES for 7D: Handled sharp objects? (AWLS), but that I wanted AXE again at 42D: Leaf-cutter, e.g. (ANT). I had the "A," obviously. Then I saw "cutter" in the clue and AXE was the first thing that leapt to mind. Never mind that only a psychotic is going to use an AXE to cut leaves. The longer answers today were a joy. I really liked TOP-LOADER and SHAKY CAM, and even the somewhat less showy PRE-FLIGHT, mostly because it started "Rocket Man" playing in my head:

Hope you found this puzzle at least as enjoyable as I did. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Accept a package formally / WED 2-23-22 / Social media-induced anxiety for short / Supermodel Gigi or Bella / Letters accompanying a tip / Pirate whose hidden treasure inspired "The Gold-Bug" / An ironic punchline / Angry outburst from a bodybuilder maybe / One who recreationally explores sewers and underground tunnels

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Constructor: Rose Conlon

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: SIGN FOR DELIVERY (37A: Accept a package formally ... or a hint to 17-, 29-, 45- and 62-Across) — ordinary phrases that can also be understood as punny descriptions of different phases of childbirth, if you want them to be...

Theme answers:
  • GUT FEELING (17A: Sneaking suspicion)
  • THE KICKER (29A: An ironic punchline)
  • BUMPY RIDE (45A: Rough flight)
  • WATER BREAK (62A: Reason to pause a workout)
Word of the Day: "Salt Fat ACID Heat" (7D: "Salt Fat ___ Heat" (popular cookbook)) —
Salt Fat Acid Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking
 is a 2017 cookbook written by American chef Samin Nosrat and illustrated by Wendy MacNaughton. The book was designed by Alvaro Villanueva. It inspired the 2018 American four-part cooking docu-series Salt Fat Acid Heat. // A reference book, the cookbook is focused on teaching techniques and structured around the four titular elements: Salt, Fat, Acid, and Heat. The book explains what they are and how to master them in your cooking in order to become a better, more intuitive cook. Nosrat explains that these are the defining factors which determine the flavor and texture of food every time you cook, calling them the "cardinal directions" of cooking. The goal of the book is for readers to leave with a new cooking philosophy. [...] Nosrat started working on the book around 2009/2010 when Michael Pollan, an author and cooking student of hers, learned about her four-part system and encouraged her to write a book about it. She developed a curriculum based on the concept and taught many classes on it to develop the material. Throughout the process, Nosrat would note which concepts were easier to convey visually and started to design diagrams to help explain them. These also formed the foundation of diagrams in the book which give an overview, for example of sources of acid or salt.
• • •

I wonder if gender had anything to do with how long it took the average solver to figure out what the theme was supposed to be. It probably didn't take me that long, in terms of actual minutes spent, but I don't think I've spent "minutes" trying to figure out a Wednesday theme in a long time, if ever. Because there's such a thing as a "water sign" (Scorpio, for one) (but not Aquarius, weirdly), and the last themer starts with "water," I thought the "sign" in the revealer had something to do with the zodiac. At first. When that didn't pan out, I thought of street signs ("Bump!"), but no. And so on. I had to exhaust the "sign" angle and move over to alternate meanings of "delivery" before the "aha" *click* finally happened. This is a very cute concept; my brain was just very slow to pick up the gag. I'm not sure what phase of childbirth BUMPY RIDE is supposed to refer to ... Is the kid still kicking, or is the ride to the hospital (!?) supposed to be bumpy. Or is this a "baby bump" reference? And the kid is just "riding" ... in the "bump"? All of the above!? That part wasn't completely clear to me. But aside from the fact that I would never formally name the time it takes me to get a drink of water during a workout a WATER BREAK, these theme answers all seem fun and fresh, and the non-theme stuff is pretty strong overall. My first word was ÉTÉ followed shortly by EKE and DELINT and ECIG, and then (improbably) a reappearance of Monday's old-school crosswordese AKELA, so I was worried the puzzle was going to be a BUMPY RIDE indeed, but then things leveled off, i.e. the fill got better. It even got a bit flashy in the longer Downs (MANSPLAINS, URBAN CAVER). So I didn't enjoy feeling like an IDIOT for the 2 to 3 minutes it took me to understand what the hell was happening with the theme, but otherwise I liked this much more than I like most Wednesdays.

["Look what I got! Now people will stop intentionally ramming our car!"]

'ROID RAGE feels oddly dated to me now. It once would've seemed like a sassy, modern expression, but now it feels weirdly '90s — like something no one says anymore. It also feels more mythical than real. I go to the gym regularly, and I've seen some bad behavior in there, for sure, but I've never seen 'ROID RAGE. My trainer is a bodybuilder—I'll ask her if it's (still) a thing the next time I'm in there (Friday). I thought TAMARI was just another word for "soy sauce," I had no idea it was uniquely "gluten-free." Allrecipes dot com talks about TAMARI and soy sauce as if they were in fact different things, but I think TAMARI's just a subset of soy sauce after all:
Tamari and soy sauce may look similar, but there are many differences between these two condiments. Soy sauce is common throughout all of Asia, but tamari is wholly Japanese. Tamari is the liquid that is pressed from fermenting miso paste, however soy sauce is made from fermenting in tanks with grains, in a method that's similar to beer making.
Cool, cool, I'm learning food things! Speaking of food things, you should definitely check out "Salt Fat ACID Heat" (the book and the Netflix documentary) if you haven't already (7D: "Salt Fat ___ Heat" (popular cookbook)). Samin Nosrat is a very engaging writer and host. She also does a really charming and informative food podcast with her friend Hrishikesh Hirway called "Home Cooking." Ooh, and I think she also made an appearance on Michelle Obama's Netflix food series, "Waffles + Mochi" (yep, first episode!). Anyway, crossword constructors, I've never seen SAMIN in the puzzle before (or NOSRAT, for that matter), so ... you know ... nudge nudge.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


What parallel lines never do / TUES 2-22-22 / Beowulf's first combatant / Lawyer's org. / Birthplace of Zeus, in myth / Chatterbox's "gift"

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Hello! It’s Clare for the final Tuesday in February (already, somehow). I kept busy the last couple of weeks by watching the Olympics, even if they were slightly disappointing (definitely not you, Nathan and Chloe and Jessie and Erin!). I’ll fight anyone who has anything negative to say about Mikaela Shiffrin, who’s absolutely perfect and is definitely the GOAT even if she didn’t get any medals this time around. With the Olympics now over and football done with, I guess I’ll go full tilt on Liverpool and my Golden State Warriors! Anywho, on to the puzzle!

Jacob McDermott

Relative difficulty: Challenging
THEME: TUESDAY (36A: Calendar column ... or a punny hint to the circled squares) — Each circle has a TWO in it; together, the circles make this a TWOs day (or, Tuesday). Tuesday is also the second column in a workweek, and connecting the five circles forms a 2 – something that the online app does for the solver and that print solvers can imagine on their own.

Theme answers:
  • 13A: Near the North or South Pole, say (AT WORLD’S END) / 6D: Sign on a vintage appliance at a flea market, maybe (IT WORKS) 
  • 21A: Well-trodden, as a path (FOOTWORN) / 3D: "American Gothic" artist (GRANT WOOD) 
  • 22A: Communicated through channels (SENT WORD) / 14D: Lead-in to "Be happy" (DON’T WORRY) 
  • 52A: "I'm speechless!" (JUST WOW) / 43D: Foster professional connections (NETWORK) 
  • 54A: Bad, but better than the alternatives (LEAST WORST) / 41D: Home of the Texas Motor Speedway, with seating for more than 150,000 spectators (FORT WORTH)
Word of the Day: SEALE (32D: Bobby of the Black Panthers) —
Robert George Seale (born October 22, 1936) was an American political activist and author. In 1966, he co-founded the Black Panther Party with fellow activist Huey P. Newton. Founded as the "Black Panther Party for Self-Defense", the Party's main practice was monitoring police activities and challenging police brutality in Black communities, first in Oakland, California, and later in cities throughout the United States. (Wiki)


• • •
Well, this puzzle was just two clever! On 2/22/22 and the second day of the week, the circles are filled with twos and can be connected to form a 2. Hats off to the constructor for the ingenuity! It’s highly unusual to see a rebus on a Tuesday (last one was six years ago), but it definitely worked given that, well, it had to, because this particular puzzle couldn’t have run on a Thursday or, for that matter, on 2/24/22. I found this puzzle to be fairly challenging because of the rebus thrown in there (when I was very much not expecting it) and to a lesser extent because the fill was harder than normal for a Tuesday. 

I got off to a bit of a rough start because the first theme answer I tried was 13A: AT WORLD’S END, but I put in “world’s end” instead, which fit the space. I got confused again at the rebus square for 3D, because I wasn’t positive who the artist of “American Gothic” was — I had an idea, but not seeing the rebus just yet made me question myself. So, it took me a bit to figure out what was going on in the puzzle and then really get going, mainly with DON’T WORRY (14D)

The place I struggled the most was in the middle of the puzzle — I didn’t know SHIRR (32A: Bake, as eggs) at all, despite considering myself pretty experienced in the kitchen; I’ve read about SEALE (32D), but I couldn’t for the life of me remember his name in the moment; I couldn’t make out whether it was ELIDE (23D: Skip over) or maybe “elude”; and INANE (40A: Like much Three Stooges humor) just wouldn’t come to me. I also messed myself up a bit (this seems to have happened a lot to me in today’s puzzle) with 53D: Well informed about because I tried to make it “in on” instead of UP ON. If someone made that mistake and then didn’t know JODI (52D) Picoult (thankfully, I do), I could see that section being challenging. FSIX (41A: Shortcut to highlighting the address bar on most internet browsers) was hard because I’ve never once in my life used that supposed shortcut (it’s also a rather ugly answer), but I managed to puzzle it out because I knew ONYX (26D: Shade of black) coming down. 

That’s all to say that I struggled here and there with the puzzle, so it took me a couple minutes over my average time for a Tuesday. But, I’ve gotta say, it was worth the slight slog for this theme on the perfect day — and for getting to see the “2” in the puzzle appear once I finished. It does kind of suck for people who solve the puzzle in the paper because they won’t get to see the nice graphic, but maybe they can find a pretty marker and draw the number themselves!

  • I thought the clues/answers for 38A: Pen that’s full of oink? as STY and 64A: Third degrees, for short as PHDS to be quite clever. 
  • Ugh, I’m pretty tired of seeing 50D: These: Sp. in a puzzle. It could be estos or estas — there’s no way to know which of those it’ll be just from the clue. 
  • For some reason, my instinct when I saw the clue for 5D: TV’s “The Good __” was to not look at the number of spaces and try to make “Place” fit instead of WIFE, even though “The Good Wife” is one of my favorite TV shows! I haven’t rewatched it in a bit, though, since going to law school, so I’m wondering how accurate all the legal aspects really are (I’m suspecting not at all). 
  • I distinctly remember finishing JODI Picoult’s novel, “My Sister’s Keeper,” because I decided to try to finish it in school. So, there I sat in my 7th grade science class with Mrs. Davis, sitting in the back of the room and reading the book under the table and silently crying because the end of the book is SO sad.
Happy four-day week, and I’ll see ya in March! 

Signed, Clare Carroll, a solver who is now up 2 late and is 2 tired for (more) words

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Title character in a Tyler Perry film franchise / MON 2-21-22 / Relatively safe investment security / Israeli statesman Abba / Jungle vine

Monday, February 21, 2022

Constructor: Natalie Murphy

Relative difficulty: Challenging (***for a Monday***)

THEME: Presidents' Day — theme answers = phrases that have the same initials as US presidents (the number of the relevant president appears in parentheses at the end of each theme clue):

Theme answers:
  • JUST FOR KICKS (JFK) (17A: On a whim [#35])
  • LEVI'S BLUE JEANS (LBJ) (23A: Denim pants with a red tab label [#36]
  • FAMILY DINING ROOM (FDR) (38A: Where domestic meals are enjoyed [#32])
  • "HAVING SAID THAT ..." (HST) (48A: "On the other hand ..." [#33])
  • GOING WAY BACK (GWB) (59A: In the distant past [#43])
Word of the Day: ZUMBA (11D: Dance-based fitness program) —
Zumba is a fitness program that involves cardio and Latin-inspired dance. It was founded by Colombian dancer and choreographer Beto Pérez in 2001, and by 2012, it called itself the largest international branded fitness program in the world. (wikipedia)
• • •

Alright, so let's start with stuff I liked. Three of these theme answers are really wonderful standalone answers that I would love to see in any puzzle: JUST FOR KICKS, GOING WAY BACK, and especially "HAVING SAID THAT..." If it took presidential monograms to turn up these phrases, then on some level, I guess this theme was worth it. Having said that ... the theme is just OK. GWB stands out like a sore thumb—just not nearly as 3-initial-worthy as the other entries. The first three are solid, then HST comes along and is like "what about me, I'm in crosswords!" and you're like, "sigh, fine, OK," but then GWB also wants to get in the car and it's like, no. No, this is not a clown car, we are full up. I'm also not really sure about the strength of FAMILY DINING ROOM as an answer. How many dining rooms do you people have!? There's the family room, and the dining room, but the FAMILY DINING ROOM is pushing it all a little far. I'm sure the phrase exists, but I'm also sure its currency is weak compared to the other theme entries. But on the whole, the theme is fine. It holds up. It's about presidents, obliquely, and it's Presidents Day, technically, so there we are. There we are. Sadly, there is the rest of the grid to contend with, and that is where things get very, very rough. Not sure where to start. Well, there's the names. Just an avalanche of names, many of them very crosswordesey, but mainly just ... so many. This puzzle starts with three names, bam bam bam (in the Acrosses). Then it treats us to A-LIST and AABOND, bam bam. But back to names: JAKOB (!) JONG DOWD MILLA (!) OLAV AKELA  ESAI EBAN, just an absolute crosswordese and/or "haven't thought of them in decades" onslaught. And then the rest of the crosswordese, some of which I haven't seen in a while: YEGG! LIANA!! ALIA ATTA ATESTS (more "A"s!!). And then DO A SET (right before you EAT A SANDWICH, presumably). The puzzle was relentless in its punishingly dated (or just plain odd) fill. If your fill isn't reasonably polished, the best theme in the world isn't going to save the solving experience. This would've been a tolerable experience with a completely refilled grid. The theme holds up today, but not much else does.

I had no idea ZUMBA still existed. Last I heard of it was sometime in 2012, I think. I had a friend who went to ZUMBA classes. Then she moved away and no one so much as mentioned ZUMBA to me ever again, in any context. I assumed it had gone the way of TAEBO (which, for all I know, is still all the rage ... somewhere). I do want to single out "I'M A FAN" (33A: "Love your work!") and especially "HI, HON" (48D: Spousal greeting) as fun little colloquial answers. I'm a fan of both. I wish more of the grid had that kind of personality. I had UNAPT (UGH, that non-word keeps haunting me) before UNFIT (26D: Not suitable, as for a job), and, most obstructive of all, I had A LONG WAY BACK before GOING WAY BACK (59A: In the distant past [#43]); that one Really felt right. Otherwise, not hard, just slowish for a Monday. Enjoy your day off if you've got one. Otherwise, just, you know, enjoy your day. See you tomorrow. Please enjoy this random outraged tweet.

Yeah, why would anyone know who the (zipless) fuck wrote that book!? 

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


  © Free Blogger Templates Columnus by 2008

Back to TOP